Articles Posted in Benzene

Virgil Hood handled paints and paint thinners manufactured by E.I. DuPont de Nemours daily while working as a painter between 1973 and 1996 for Timpte Trailers, a manufacturer of semi-trailers. He also worked for Continental Airlines. Hood was diagnosed with myelodysplastic syndromes also known as acute myeloid leukemia in 2012. The lawsuit states that he received chemotherapy treatments and after having a bone marrow transplant, he experienced “horrific complications” that included his having pneumonia three times as well as temporary blindness and significant weight loss. The lawsuit also stated that, Hood was battling graft-versus-host disease, in which his body and the new bone marrow are literally attacking one another and experiencing side effects caused by the drugs he took to prevent his body from rejecting the new bone marrow. Although he still worked while undergoing chemotherapy treatments, he had to retire after the transplant.

During the trial, evidence showed that DuPont, the manufacturer of the paints that Hood worked with, that from 1938, DuPont knew that benzene exposure causes bone marrow disease and by 1954, DuPont had warned others to remove benzene from paints. By the late 1960s, it was well established that benzene causes leukemia. Hood representation stated that, “DuPont chose not to take the benzene out of its products or to warn workers like Mr. Hood about the hazards. Instead in 1975 DuPont marched one of its executives before OSHA to deceive the government about cancer hazards of its paint products.”

Another member of Hood’s legal representation during the trial, stated that, “When DuPont learned that the government was considering a safety standard, it thought only of costs to its business. Rather than simply place a cancer warning on its paints, DuPont’s expert presented shoddy test results to OSHA that were nowhere near real-world conditions. DuPont’s whitewashed testing was designed to create the appearance that workers exposed to benzene levels 5 to 10 times above the proposed standard would still be safe.”

Benzene lawsuits have been big news lately in Texas, Tennessee, and Florida–some good news and some bad news. Good news is these benzene lawsuits are having their day in court; bad news is these benzene lawsuits are occurring because government oversight of its citizens’ safety is lax–forcing personal injury lawyers to step in and clean up the carcinogens through lawsuits after the cancer has been caused, soil contaminated, damage done.

Benzene is an industrial chemical used in the production of a number of products, including refineries, tire manufacturing, and microchip production. It is a known carcinogen, responsible for most cases of workplace-caused acute myelogenous leukemia (AML). Atmospheric and workplace exposure to this leukemia-causing chemical is supposed to be regulated by EPA, OSHA, and other regulatory agencies. Unfortunately, as recent news events show, federal and state government officials’ hands are tied by loose laws regulating benzene or for punishing those who do not take appropriate benzene safeguards to prevent potential cancer from benzene exposure.

Concerned Houston-area citizens and Texas environmental watchdogs filed a Clear Air lawsuit last week to protect themselves from benzene and other carcinogenic and dangerous emissions from a Deer Park (southeast Houston) Shell Oil refinery. This is the first time benzene lawyers and private citizens have used a provision of the Clean Air Act that allows individuals to sue for violations when government enforcement fails.

Like cops in hardboiled movies, attorneys like to check up on those usual suspects on their beat. One I keep my eye on and was eying recently is BF Goodrich’s tire manufacturing plant in Tuscaloosa, AL a few hours south of our offices. A little over a year ago, the plant was fined by OSHA for more than $91,000 in penalties for workplace hazards after being issued 28 serious citations, 2 of which for repeat citations. Most of these dangers were basic matters to solve but life-threatening to workers, such as preventing worker falls into pits through floor openings, updating machinery to prevent electrocution, and not providing proper personal protective equipment like gloves and face shields.

What I found in the news was another occupational hazard.

Benzene.

I’ve been trying to serve the public good for a number of years now, and, still, the hardest cases I encounter are benzene cases. Any time a common carcinogen’s involved, there’s a certain difficulty in establishing cause and effect.

Even if a client was exposed to benzene every day of his or her job as an oil refinery worker or tire plants, it’s not always easy to prove this exposure caused his/her cancer–but that’s not the hard part. Sure, when we’re all exposed a number of carcinogens from a number of places everyday, the corporations have a good shot a deferring responsibility, but what makes these cases hard are the clients going through chemo for acute myeloid leukemia or non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma who know that they got it at work and the company they worked 40-plus hours a week for and made profitable won’t listen to their case.

What spurred this old ghost? A friend of my associate who’d gone to Rhodes College in Memphis contacted him the other afternoon wondering what he could do about the Williams Refining Co.’s release of benzene (as much as 31% over federal limit) that went unreported by the company for four years (1997-2001). Sure, back in February of this year they were fined $2.2 million by EPA for violating the Clean Air Act, but, he asked, what about Memphisites? He doesn’t smoke, but was still breathing in (and drinking) their carcinogenic waste the entire time he was in Midtown.

This week we just concluded a case where a man is dying from myelogenous leukemia. Our client worked around diesel fuel for the past twenty years. It is our belief that the cancer was called by a chemical known as Benzene. Unfortunately, we have other similar cases from Benzene exposure.

Benzene is commonly used throughout the country in plastics, rubber, resins, and synthetic fabrics, as well as fuels, paints and a number of other common items. Exposure to high levels of benzene has been associated with cases of leukemia, cancer, acute myelogenous leukemia, acute lymphocytic leukemia, and chronic myelogenous leukemia, as well as many other types.

What is upsetting about this case and other similar cases we have is that my practice is reactive. When the family sits in my office the tragedy has occurred. I can’t undue the events; we can only seek some relief in a Court room. I am making this post to let everyone know of the dangers of benzene. Perhaps if more people know of the problems they can take precautions, stay healthy and be proactive to avoid the potential dangers of this chemical.

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